The Maltese Falcon - Classic Film Noir Starts Here
Nov 15, 2006 (Updated Nov 15, 2006)
Review by AliventiAsylum
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:acting, dialogue, pace, story
The Bottom Line: Better than many of today's so-called "thrillers", The Maltese Falcon deserves it's place in the top 100 films of all time.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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In 1539, the Knight Templars of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels ----- but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day ----
Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade. He's a detective who's short on cases when he's hired by Brigid O'Shaughnessy (portrayed by Mary Astor) who claims she's looking for her missing sister and her married lover, a man by the name of Floyd Thursby. Shortly afterward, Sams partner, Miles Archer (portrayed by Jerome Cowan) is shot and killed while following Thursby. Soon Thursby turns up dead as well and the police are looking hard at Sam as the killer of the two men, especially since Sams been having an affair with Miles wife, Iva (portrayed by Gladys George).
Sam knows there's more to Brigids story and hunts her down. Slowly a story of intrigue and possible riches all surrounding a mythical Maltese Falcon emerges. There are twists galore in the plot that bring Sam into great peril as he must cope with pressure being put on him from the local police as well as the criminals who are after Brigid and the Falcon.
I hadnt seen The Maltese Falcon until recently, although I had seen plenty of homages to it without realizing. It's a story that's been copied everywhere and lampooned as well, from the old Warner Brothers cartoons with Bugs Bunny to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and more. The Maltese Falcon marked John Hustons directorial debut and although he would go on to be a Hollywood legend with a fine repertoire of work, perhaps none of those other films have transcended our culture as much as this one did.
Huston was also responsible for adapting the novel by Dashiell Hammett to the silver screen and did a terrific job with that as well. Its rare for an individual to be able to carry through in both these areas and its a tremendous credit to his abilities that The Maltese Falcon is pretty much flawless.
The performances he evokes from his cast are marvelous. Bogart is every inch Sam Spade, a tough detective who has a soft spot for the ladies under a tough exterior. Sam is not perfect, but then none of the so-called good guys in the film are, either. Hes sleeping with his partners wife and not the least bit sorry for it, and doesnt seem to show any remorse at tossing her aside once shes available and another pretty face has entered the picture. Perhaps the only woman he truly respects is his outspoken secretary, Effie (portrayed by Lee Patrick). Its precisely Spades flaws that endear him to all as Sam is a human being, struggling to do the right thing in a world where doing so isnt easy. Hes got weak moments and the film is a tale of his struggle against one of them as hes preyed upon by a woman who seems to know hes ripe for seduction.
That woman would be Mary Astor. Astor was a Hollywood darling who gave a great performance here as well. Brigid is deceptive and innocent at the same time, able to turn on the tears like a faucet when she thinks its to her advantage. Its easy to see why men would fall for her story and I didnt feel like shouting at the screen about how stupid they were being. She reveals her story slowly, and it seems perfectly natural that shes doing so, which is how Sam gets drawn into her web and her world. The two share a chemistry although its not overt and steamy.
The villains are terrific as well. I was happy to finally see a performance Id seen celebrated and lampooned elsewhere; the character of Joel Cairo as portrayed by Peter Lorre. If youve never seen The Maltese Falcon, I guarantee you have seen take-offs of this character in movies, television, and cartoons. Lorre is terrific as are the rest of the supporting cast of villains, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr.
Huston hits on the perfect pacing to the film, revealing clues to the mystery slowly and creating a thriller without all of the explosions and gunplay currently the norm for so-called thrillers in Hollywood. Instead, the mystery deepens even as part of it is solved, taking viewers on a roller-coaster to the end of it. I didnt feel like I knew throughout the film how the situation was going to be resolved, which took away the element of predictability. Huston also managed to evoke such terrific performances from the cast as they recited biting dialogue lifted almost verbatim from Hammetts novel.
What I liked most, however, was the fact that the characters seemed real. Sam Spade wasnt a cardboard-cutout hero, perfect in every way. Brigid was not so innocent and using her womanly wiles to try and convince others differently. The villains had an element of danger to them and at the same time were oddly out of place, especially for their time.
It was hard in some ways to look at The Maltese Falcon and be objective with all thats come since. It just takes remembering that much of the film noir happened because of this movie. Open your mind and enjoy classic film-making and a wonderful thriller.
• Cast & Crew Biographies
• A History of Mystery
© 2006 Patti Aliventi
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